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Broken House – A Look at Life One Year After Foreclosure

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The facade, once faded green, has now been painted a blissful, institutional yellow.

I drive by on my way to my new home. This new home doesn't quite fit me. I feel like a man who has been forced to walk barefooted and considers himself lucky to have found someone else's discarded shoes. I know I should feel grateful to be shod at all, and yet, these shoes do not fit me, they were not made for me and no matter how hard I try I cannot force myself into feeling that these are now my shoes. They are good shoes. Well, good enough shoes anyway… they are not my shoes. However long I may wear them, they will never bring me comfort, only a blister on my heel to remind me that I should be grateful. I force myself to feel grateful.

I see the pink babydoll buggy lying abandoned in the front yard. The garage door is half open revealing a sterile orderliness. Tools hung in their right places on a peg board. Boxes stacked neatly against one wall. God does like a neat tidy package, perhaps that's where we went wrong? Too frenetic in our desires, too much in love with life, too chaotic in our security, we filled it with our loud voices and the things we had acquired in our travels, our music and all of the miscellany that comes with years. From elementary school finger paintings to high school year books, we crammed it all in – knowing that this was our home. Or would someday be. Perhaps that is why? Because we had the audacity to assume our future.

I have seen them of course. I know them. They know me. But not in a way that's personal, not intimately, like old friends who share their darkest secrets. Yet they do know my darkest secret, they've glimpsed a part of my shame. Without this we might have been friends. Might have walked our children to school together or stood by our mailboxes and chatted about growing tomatoes or trimming the hedges. As it is now I feel the sting of red in my cheeks whenever they approach, I move away quickly lest they recognize my stain.

Still, they are good people. They took the time to ask other neighbors where we might have gone. They gathered the mail that came in our name in little rubber-banded bundles and saved it for us. When they found us they gave us the mail, and some of the items that haste had made us leave behind. Important things, a baby picture here, a book that showed our fervent adoration in its well-worn cover and broken binding. Other things that they felt might have significance to a family with children, they would know these items, recognize them immediately, they are a family as well. I know they are good people. I hope for them that they find the shelter and security that we could not hold onto. I hope this house, this bright, friendly, yellow house, does not become an ami de cour as it did for us.

I drive up the street to my new house and feel the blister of my unfitting shoes.

I force myself to feel grateful.

For my house and thy house no help shall we find
Save thy house and my house — kin cleaving to kind;
If my house be taken, thine tumbleth anon.
If thy house be forfeit, mine followeth soon

       "The Houses" – Rudyard Kipling

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About A Geek Girl

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Geek Girl,

    In the year since your home was foreclosed, did you have a place to live at all? I’m not being nasty in asking this. After a divorce 27 years ago, I spent a year living on the streets. I was lucky. I had no kids to take care of.

    I have some idea of how you must have felt….

  • http://www.assemblagist.org Val MacEwan

    My neighbors lost their home and business in Illinois, then moved down here to a small southern rural town to start over. I admire their courage. Their misfortune has created an odd sense of community on our street — we realize that there, but for the grace of G_d, go we. And now we share… more than ever before.

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    Geek,

    Yours is the first voice I’ve heard of someone who has lost their home since the poop hit the fan last year. I am a real estate appraiser, and I have inspected dozens of homes over the past several months that were sitting empty owing to foreclosure. I take no pleasure in it.

    I can only imagine the pain this brought to your lives. Over the years my wife and I have had periods of being on really shaky ground financially, but have always been able – sometimes at the last minute – to pull it all out of the fire.

    We have never really gotten over the hump financially, but seem to have found a rhythm, if you will, that keeps us afloat.

    Assuming that you are able to right yourselves money wise, hopefully you will be able to take some lessons learned and avoid a similar loss in the future. The pain and anger will subside with time, but it’s something that will always be there at the back of your heart.

    I think part of the problem is that we make too big a deal out of the supposed American Dream of owning a home. It’s not a bad thing, but I don’t think it’s a necessary thing. A lot of people go through life without ever laying claim to any piece of real estate. I have two sons – one in Germany and the other in NYC. They are both around 30 years old, and neither of them has shown the slightest interest in purchasing a home.

    But regardless, hopefully the “stain” of your loss will fade away and brighter days will come.

  • http://woodnotwood.blogspot.com A Geek Girl

    Ruvy, A year on the street? That’s an article I would be interested in reading. We had no place to go at first. The kids stayed with friends and a couple of weeks into living in our van we got hit by an ice storm. Luckily a friend offered her basement for three weeks whilst I saved money for a deposit. She saved my life. I’m not sure I would have survived that ice storm in my vehicle.

  • http://woodnotwood.blogspot.com A Geek Girl

    Val, I have written more extensively on this event, but have yet to publish it. ‘There but for the grace…’ is actually one of the lines I used in writing about my neighbors helping me to pack.

    My new house is on the same street in the same neighborhood. For the first month or so after moving when I had to work late and I was tired, or when my brain was just on auto-pilot, I would drive to my old house only to pull into the driveway and realize that this was not my house anymore.

    My neighbors have welcomed us back warmly. I think our rebound has given them much needed hope. I never tell them how bad it really got, and I hope they never have to know for themselves.

  • http://woodnotwood.blogspot.com A Geek Girl

    Baritone, we had managed to walk the thin line for a while, but a medical emergency and the loss of our health insurance finally pushed us over the brink. We were what is classified now as ‘The working homeless’.

    With a place to stay we were able to save enough for a security deposit and rent, if we had had to stay in an extended stay hotel we might never have gotten back on our feet.

    I don’t think the ‘stain’ will ever quite leave. I still wake at night in a panic and have to remind myself that I am home. That my kids are safe in their beds upstairs. From time to time I’ll run into someone who knows that we lost our home and there will be a moment of awkwardness as we search for a proper greeting. And I see the new homeowners daily due to our proximity. Some days it’s fine, other days I wish I could throw a blanket over my head and disappear.

    Your kids are smart. Renting is fine. The American Dream can easily become the American Nightmare.

    And it’s very difficult to rent after foreclosure, but noone should ever give up. We found someone who took us without a credit check. There are still people out there who have faith in others. You find them by persistant searching and never losing hope.

  • http://mizbviewsfromthetower.blogspot.com Jeanne Browne

    Geek Girl — I live in NYC and don’t know anyone who’s gone through foreclosure. I can only try to imagine the combination of shock, loss, humiliation, anger, outrage, fear, hopelessness, utter vulnerability. I think that not just losing a home but having it taken away — and by a pig institution that couldn’t care less — must rank right up there with the death of a child or a vicious criminal assault. You write about your situation with such loveliness, clarity, and with a deliberate vagueness that allows others to insert their own tragic loss in place of yours. I hope the future brings you peace of mind, a sense of well-being, zest and enthusiasm again, amazing dumb good luck — and a really beautiful, extremely comfortable new pair of shoes.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    My wife’s sister and her husband found it difficult to manage money when their children were young and they were evicted from the apartment they were renting. It was very hard for them to find housing to rent in afterwards – it took them two years of forced savings and hard looking. But they too succeeded and have lived there nigh on 10 years. There are some decent folks around….

    As for me living on the streets, it wasn’t as hard as it could have been. I don’t smoke or use recreational drugs, so this kept my mind clearer than the bent chimneys all around me. And it was just me I had to look after – and after walking mile after mile day after day, there was less and less of me to look after (boy has that changed!).

    But my formula for survival was the same as yours – gratitude. I had a ruined marriage to contemplate, an aborted legal career to contemplate, and a future (embarassing that at age 31) to consider. So I was grateful for being in a city rather than the country-side – no poisoned mushrooms to pick, no problems worrying about my utter and total ignorance of nature and her ways and plenty of company around me. I figured out that holding on to bitterness was not wise, so I forgave my ex. I was not attractive to other women, so they were not a problem or a distraction (what woman really wants to go out with a bum?). I had no bills to pay. All I had to do was make sure I had a place to sleep – relatively easy; make sure I had what to eat – also relatively easy; and keep depression from swallowing me up – that was the hard part.

    I also had a notebook and a pen, and viewed them as weapons against those who hurt me. I still do.

    The “stain” does go away in time, Geek Girl. Trust me. It does. We all move on, and a book I wrote in my bitterness shortly after finding an apartment has been very hard for me to edit. I’m just not that bitter that I can bring the same edge of anger to what I write now as what I wrote then.

    I’m not the same bitter man I was in 1984. I married again, we have two sons who are nearly grown, and live lives I never thought we would be living in 1987. In fact, for me, the last 20 years have been the dream of a lifetime. Looking back, I see the need for an element of bitterness in writing. I wrote better then than I do now. So use the gift you’ve been given – pain – and write. Contentment may make the writing harder later on.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/fran-parker/ Fran

    Friends and family have gone through very hard times during this ‘crisis’ — some have lost a home they were building for themselves, right at the brink of completion. Some through personal bankruptcy, some through loss of jobs and all that entails.

    Over my life, I have found that gratitude or what religious folk call ‘counting our blessings’ certainly can help us get through even the worst of times whether it be being bankrupt financially, emotionally and/or spiritually. Sometimes we grow the most as a person during hard times in our lives — no, not sometimes, most of the time. There is always something to be grateful for, if we can but discover it.

  • John Lake

    A pleasure to encounter a well written and emotionally moving article.

  • http://woodnotwood.blogspot.com A Geek Girl

    Jeanne, I miss NY. It’s sad to say but, although my picture is me, writing under a nom de plume makes it easier to be honest.

    I began this story as a parable. I didn’t want to ‘lead’ the reader into feeling one way or the other, I wanted to allow people to come away with their own conclusions. Upon re-reading I realized that I had failed to do that. They say true parables are the hardest thing to write. Still, I did try to be as objective as possible. I just couldn’t pull myself out of it completely.

    I’m glad you don’t have to deal with this. That your friends are safe at home as I write. There’s still hope for us all.

  • http://woodnotwood.blogspot.com A Geek Girl

    Ruvy, that really is an interesting story. It’s strange to think that 2 years ago I could have only sympathized, now I’m entirely empathetic.

    I think that writing this has helped me as writing helped you. It’s a terrible thing to hold in. And I can’t even tell you how terrified I was of co-workers finding out what was happening to me. I still don’t know how I made it through on so little sleep and under the stress. I just knew I couldn’t stop. Others were counting on me.

    I might have given up if I had been on my own. I’m glad I didn’t get that option.

    I always thought that I had outgrown Nietzsche, a cool rebel phase I went through in high school and college, but his words have come back to me now with a renewed profundity. That which doesn’t kill you does indeed make you stronger.

    I’m sorry it took so long to respond. We’ve been flooding here and we’re all trying to help out. Needless to say, I’m glad I’m not out there now. But others are. It seems wrong not to try to help.

  • http://woodnotwood.blogspot.com A Geek Girl

    Fran, I’m sorry to hear about the misfortunes experienced by your family and friends. I think it’s going to be a long haul before we’re out of the woods.

    I’ve learned some strange things on my journey, like where you can take a warm wash in the middle of the night, and where you shouldn’t park to sleep because you’ll wake up in the morning with people staring in your window. I thought about writing a ‘survival guide’ to being homeless in my town.

    I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride between bitterness and gratitude for the last year. I’m not particularly religious, but I am spiritual. I do count my blessing. And stress about how to keep them even now.

  • http://woodnotwood.blogspot.com A Geek Girl

    John Lake, thank you so much. I never expected so much encouragement and it is very appreciated. I’ll try to lighten up a bit.

    I’m going Fall boot shopping soon. That alone is reason enough to keep me going. I know it’s superficial, but I’m vain about my footwear. Life just feels better when I’ve got on cool shoes.

  • http://ruvysroost.blogspot.com Ruvy

    Geek Girl,

    I see from your article on that less than intelligent mother in the mall that you are continuing to write. Excellent! Were it my article to write, I would have left out the last few lines – but no matter. You wrote a fine piece there, just as you wrote a fine piece above. It’s a pleasure to see your work.

  • http://woodnotwood.blogspot.com A Geek Girl

    Ruvy,
    Pedant!
    (That’s actually a high compliment coming from me.)

    I added the disclaimer for one reason.
    The violence.
    I saw mom encouraging sis to use physical force on her little sister. I saw brother getting extremely violent with no real consequences. That’s just unhealthy. You can’t send mixed messages to kids. You can’t ask one child to use physical force to control the other then expect that they’re going to respect the fact that you can’t use violence to get your way.

    Kids have to understand that you don’t lay your hands on someone else under any circumstances.

    I do like picking up freelance work at stores and malls though. I’m a people watcher. I spent 3 years as an Army Psychiatric Specialist. It’s in my nature to be fascinated by human interaction.

    I’m hoping, probably as you are, that this was just an extremely bad day that I witnessed. But the stress is undeniable. I see it all around me every day.

  • Grace

    Your story has been one of the most emotional foreclosure stories I’ve read. When you are forced to move on from a home you have cherished as your shelter and sanctuary, any substitution would be ill-fitting as you have described. However, one thing that has helped me move forward from past traumatic events in my life is acceptance. I accepted what happened, forgave myself for whatever I’ve done that led to such an event, stopped resisting my present circumstance, and enjoy the present moment for what it is. I hope you find peace and acceptance within yourself. You are always home, no matter where you are.